As the Ottawa Citizen reported on Friday, the Treasury Board is sending a very mixed message about social media. They’re telling the Public Service to use social media and then putting enough caveats and confusion on the whole concept as to make it inconvenient and not worth their time.

This goes beyond simply working against the authenticity and immediacy of social media culture. The 25-pages of guidelines require social media programs and participants to understand an additional 10 documents on legislation and 21 on government policy. Though the TBS’s social media rules refer to those 31 documents as “Instruments”.

Instruments… signature legalese. Proof, as Josh Greenberg points out, these rules were written by a rather large, multi-disciplinary committee. In fact, you can see where the various author groups clashed in opinion and tone by the presence and absence of the word “you” in various statements of the guidelines. Those alone tell a very interesting story about this document.

These new guidelines are a very-thinly veiled path of deep resistance. The result will be the a culture in which the public service couldn’t be bothered with navigating the many layers of review and approval for the overall program and each of its actions, or a series of dull social media initiatives that routinely make headlines for their exponential and ever increasing costs. High costs and bad press… a sure recipe to prove social media programs are ineffective and bad government policy.

Social media guidelines need to create a culture which innovates public relations and communications. That comes by setting simple and achievable parameters and establishing support systems for those who participate. The foundation needs to be clear, solid and human-friendly. For more on what that looks like, check out the three-page Guidelines for the use of social media in the Victorian public sector and how the Victorian Department of Justice created a clear and easy-to-follow supporting policy.

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